Judgment and Loss, Life

Food Stamps don’t break a person. Judgment does.

“My father was a prideful man, and although he and I didn’t always see eye to eye – there is one thing that I saw in his eyes that will always stir up emotions inside me. Embarrassment for needing help.”

Growing up, it was my father, myself and two brothers. Here and there my grandparents would care for us when my father was unable. Saying my father was prideful is an understatement – something that he and I shared in common. He cared very much how others saw him or thought of him, what the whispers were behind his back and struggled with trying to withstand it all. So much so that every month we drove an hour or more out of the way, where no one knew us – to buy our groceries.

Being that my father was disabled, he received food stamps. At that point, food stamps came in a booklet, that you would tear out individually to buy food, almost like monopoly money for the less fortunate. For a gallon of milk, tearing out one stamp worth five dollars was not big deal – but buying groceries for a family of 4-6 was an ordeal. We all dreaded going to the store, but we would pile in and make a drive to a grocery store out of the way, every time.

Picturing my father’s face at the checkout stand still makes my heart heavy. Watching him look around to see if anyone was watching, hearing the remarks and witnessing the looks as the cashier would tear out each and every dollar amount laying it out on her stand as they used to do. There was not a non-discreet way of making you feel less embarrassed at that time. Sometimes, it felt as if they would do it to make a mockery of those that dependant on assistance. His ego was bruised every month, in front of his children, and there was nothing he could about it.

Now of course, at least where we are from, there is a card that you can swipe just like any debit card – except it says that its assistance on it. It’s less noticeable and easier for those that would rather not have everyone know. Being on assistance isn’t something people boast about, if they are prideful and honest people.

When I see someone in line purchasing groceries with a food card, I never think to myself “I’m paying taxes for you, get a job!” instead I think of my father. I find myself looking around to see if anyone is mocking them, or finding a creative way of blocking people from seeing them swipe their card, and always talk to them, give them extra time and remind them that I see them as a person – and nothing less.

Explain to me, how it is that the judgmental ones know what is going on in that persons life. Do they know why they receive assistance? Do they know how many children, disabled/foster/adopted or otherwise are at home? Or, whether they are caring for a elderly parent or family member, whether they live on social security or disability with only a $700 monthly income? I’m willing to guess not.

Think of this scenario which I know to be a fact. A food card recipient buys groceries as they normally would for the month. They learn of a church member who has fallen ill, they take from their monthly allotment to bake a meal, delivering it to their door offering up prayer for their family. They would care the same for you, as a whole, not your background, not what model of car you drive or type of home you live in. Life isn’t about those things – those will never matter in the end. How you treat people, will.

People talk without thinking, judge without blinking and compare more than we should, myself included. Though, it is natural to a certain extent, there is honest, moral guide within everyone that is severely damaged. Where do we draw the line, and remember the other is a person, a living breathing human being that was not only created by GOD, but is loved by GOD as well? Do you think GOD cares if you drive a beat up Chevy, a Mercedes or even a bike? No, he doesn’t care about material items. However, does he care that you are kind to the people around you? Absolutely!

There are situations where people take advantage of the system, and yes I agree that it is wrong. The ironic part of it, is that there are just as much “well off” people abusing it, as their are “lazy” people. Take sports for example, in our local community people will apply for scholarships to provide their child to participate – when it is more than possible for them to pay for not only their child but three others. People pretend to be less off, to get benefits – whether food, healthcare or otherwise. It’s simply not one sided, and it’s definitely not black or white.

Personally, I have friends on assistance that no one would ever guess were. People that they consider friends, eat meals with, go to when they need a shoulder to cry on, then lump them into their own labeled insufficient characteristics to gain a feeling of empowerment. For what? Do you judge the lady with three kids in front of you for using a food card? Do you judge the man wearing a suit, using a food card? Are they really compareable by their outward appearance, and are you really qualified to make those assumptions? Would you condemn or end a friendship with that person if they were your friend because you just can’t manage the thought of associating with such societal rejects?

In closing, yes there are people who get more than they deserve – and that will continue to happen throughout our lifetime. It isn’t for us to decide who deserves a free meal, a free doctors appointment or our general kindness. We are supposed to give the benefit of the doubt, turn the other cheek, treat people how you want to be treated, or better yet how you want your children to be treated. The next time your in line at a grocery store and the person in front of you is using a food card, think of how you would feel in their shoes. Instead of reciting a knee-jerk comment like “You’re welcome, lazy”, think for a moment, and offer some kindness – even if it’s just your silence.

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